CHAPTER SIXTEEN


A courtroom was a familiar place. She sought the bench and kept her gaze there as she moved toward the waiting witness stand. It was federal court, so she had never appeared before the judge or even met him, but his smile looked kind, and she found reassurance in that.

Another bailiff produced a Bible and held it out to her. She promised solemnly to tell the truth, and took her seat.

Her gaze went now to the prosecutor's table. Malcolm Harris stood beside it, shuffling some papers. Diandra Shaw met Catherine's look and smiled. Jack Butler, whom she hadn't seen since the night she came above, occupied a third chair at the prosecution table. When she caught his eye, he winked.

Catherine tried to smile, but her face felt stiff and expressionless. She settled for a tiny nod of her head.

Malcolm stopped ruffling his papers and stepped to the lectern. "Would you state your name, please?"

Catherine's mouth was dry; she swallowed once to try to moisten it and leaned toward the microphone in front of her. "Catherine Chandler." Even to herself, her voice sounded weak and quavery. A glass of water was beside her, and she picked it up and sipped. It helped, but only a little.

Malcolm smiled. "Good morning, Miss Chandler. It is Miss, isn't it?"

"Yes." She nodded affirmation and was pleased to find her voice was stronger.

"What is your employment, Miss Chandler, what do you do?"

"I'm an attorney. I'm not employed at the present time."

"And how long has it been since you practiced law?"

"About four years."

"Where did you last work as an attorney?"

"In the Manhattan District Attorney's office."

"Under District Attorney John Moreno."

"Under John Moreno, yes." She could say his name without flinching now.

"How long had you been with the D.A.'s office when you left?"

"About two years."

"During those two years, did you have occasion to meet District Attorney Moreno?"

"Yes. A number of times."

"Under what circumstances?"

"Briefings, strategy meetings. Sometimes even at the coffee machine."

Malcolm smiled. "So you were familiar with Mr. Moreno's appearance. You could recognize him?"

She smiled faintly back. "We were on a first-name basis."

The defense attorney made a routine objection, and Catherine was instructed to answer the question she had been asked.

"Yes, I knew him. I could recognize him."

"And how did you feel about District Attorney Moreno?"

"I thought he was a good, aggressive prosecutor. He was sometimes a bit more conservative than I'd have liked."

"But you liked him?"

She paused. Even after their encounter earlier in the day, it was hard to make this admission. "Yes, I liked him. Respected him." She swallowed hard. "Trusted him."

"Thank you, Miss Chandler. Now, on the night of June 21, 1989, did you receive a phone call?"

"Yes, I did."

"And about what time did that call come in?"

"It was close to midnight. It may even have been a little past midnight - the morning of the twenty-second."

"Do you recall who the call was from?"

She nodded. "It was from someone in the emergency room at Lang Hospital. I don't recall her name. She said Joe Maxwell had been brought in, and was asking for me."

"And who is Joe Maxwell?"

"He was a deputy district attorney - my immediate boss at the D.A.'s office."

"And was he a patient in the emergency room?"

"Yes. He'd been caught in some kind of explosion. He was badly injured."

"What did you do then?"

"I got dressed and hurried over to the hospital."

"And what happened there?"

She talked about the interminable wait for news, of donating blood while she waited, of finally getting in to see Joe. "He seemed very weak; he could barely talk. I thought he should try to save his strength, but he insisted on telling me about a black book in his jacket. I thought it must be important, so I asked an orderly if I could look through Joe's things. I found a small black leather-bound notebook."

"Did you read what was in the notebook?"

"I glanced at it. It seemed to be some sort of code or personal shorthand made up of initials and abbreviations. I didn't examine it closely at that time."

"And then what happened?"

"As I was leaving, I met one of the nurses who'd been on duty downstairs, when I'd donated blood for Joe."

"And what did she say?"

The defense attorney objected to the relevance of the question.

"Mr. Harris?" the judge asked.

"The relevance of this line of questioning will become clear in a moment, your honor."

The judge pondered a moment, then nodded. "The witness may answer."

Malcolm looked at Catherine. "Miss Chandler? What did the nurse tell you?"

"She told me I shouldn't have donated."

"Did she say why?"

The shock and disbelief of that moment came back to her vividly. She nodded. "Yes. She said I was pregnant."

Malcolm nodded approval. The motives for both her initial kidnapping and her later long imprisonment had been established.

Malcolm's careful questions led her through a narration of the events leading to her abduction, taking care to put emphasis on the black book, and the copy she'd given to John Moreno. Then he took her through the abduction itself. "What did you do, once you were on the elevator?"

"I took my gun out of my purse and aimed it at the doors. I wanted to be ready."

"And what happened when the doors opened?"

"John Moreno was standing there. I was relieved to see him, and lowered the gun. And then two armed men stepped out of hiding."

"When these men accosted you, did District Attorney Moreno try to come to your aid?"

"No."

"Did he shout?"

"No."

"Run for help?"

"No."

"He was your boss for two years. You've told the court that he was someone you trusted."

"Yes," she agreed. "I never would have put down the gun otherwise."

"Yet when you were abducted before his eyes by two armed men, what did he do?"

"Nothing. He turned and walked away."

The judge recessed for lunch. Catherine was escorted to the ladies' room and then returned to the witness room. Joe bounced to his feet when she came in.

"How's it going?"

She kicked off her shoes and flexed cramped toes. "Okay, I guess. It's hard to tell."

"You're cool, though, right? Steady?" They both knew too much fidgeting on the stand could discredit a witness in a jury's eyes.

Catherine paced the width of the cramped room in stocking feet, burning up nervous energy. "Yeah," she answered. "I'm cool."

A bailiff appeared, asking what he could get them to eat.

"I don't know," Joe answered. "Cathy? What do you want?"

She shrugged. "I'm not hungry. Whatever you want is fine."

He peered at her closely. "Okay, but I'm getting some for you, too. You have to eat."

She shrugged again. "Whatever."

Lunch, when it came, was take-out Chinese. Joe thrust a styrofoam cup of Egg Drop Soup under her nose. "Here," he commanded. "Don't put it down until you've finished it."

She had to smile. "I see Jenny's wearing off on you," she commented as she accepted the cup.

"Yeah," he said, looking sheepish. "Maybe so. You eat that soup, now, and when you're done, I want you to have some of this other stuff."

The first spoonful of soup did seem to help the fluttering in her stomach. "It's good," she acknowledged, and eyed the row of white cartons with a bit more interest. "What do you have there?"

"Let's see. I didn't know what you liked, so I got a bunch of stuff." He started opening cartons to peek inside. "Sweet and Sour Pork. Moo Goo Gai Pan. Broccoli Beef. Kung Pao Chicken."

"What, no shrimp dishes?"

For a moment, he actually thought she was serious. "Cathy, I..." Then he caught on, and threatened her with an eggroll.

When she was finally called back to the courtroom, she left him picking at what was left of the excellent and spicy Kung Pao Chicken.

She resumed the witness stand with a touch more confidence and went on to tell of the early days of her imprisonment; the drugs, the lights, the constant interrogation about the whereabouts of the black book. Malcolm's expert questioning enabled her to give answers that painted a vivid picture. Then it was time to implicate Gabriel, insofar as she could.

"And then they moved me. I'm not sure why; I was drugged at the time. In the new place, I was locked in a small room with a bed and a window."

"You say locked. Were you unable to leave?"

"The door was locked from the outside," she explained. "I had no key."

"Did you ask to be released?"

"Many times. But it was no use. No one would listen."

He spent a little time having her recount individual attempts, both verbal and physical, to free herself, before moving on. "What happened to you after you were moved to this new facility? Did the interrogations continue?"

"No. They stopped asking about the black book and stopped the drugs. I started receiving regular meals and medical attention."

"What sort of medical attention?" Malcolm asked, leading her along the line they'd previously discussed.

"I was pregnant," she reminded. "I believe it was prenatal care."

"Standard prenatal care?"

"I can't be certain. This was my first child. My first pregnancy. None of the procedures was ever explained. I never saw any of the results."

"You're telling us they performed medical procedures on you without your consent, and then withheld the results?"

"Yes."

"Can you identify any of the individuals who were involved in detaining you?"

"Yes," she answered. "I remember their faces."

"And are any of the individuals you observed while you were incarcerated present now, in this courtroom?"

This was the moment she dreaded. She had been careful, ever since entering the room, not to look toward the defense table, even when one of the battery of defense attorneys was speaking. But now she would have to.

Her knuckles were white, she noticed, where she gripped the wooden railing in front of her. Slowly she raised her head and scanned the faces on the defense's side of the room.

He stared back at her, his eyes as cold as she remembered, and she suddenly knew why sometimes victims refuse to testify. She had to swallow twice before she could answer.

"Yes."

Malcolm nodded. "Can you point this individual out to us?"

Her hand trembled when she lifted it. "There," she said, pointing. "The defendant."

Gabriel's cold, merciless gaze never wavered; it was she who looked away.

Establishing his knowledge of her imprisonment was really all she could do. She believed utterly that he was the one giving the orders, but he had never given any in her presence; indeed, she had never even heard him speak. Still, there were a number of other questions that needed to be asked and answered in order to add credence to the testimony Moreno had already provided. She was wrung out and exhausted when court recessed for the day.

Despite her fatigue, she wished she didn't have to wait to face the defense's cross-examination. She wanted to get it over with. Instead, she was escorted back to the witness room.

Joe waited with her body armor and helped strap it on, and the taciturn bailiff led them to a door different than the one they'd used that morning.

Agent Mulgrew was there. He keyed a walkie-talkie when he saw them coming and the armored limousine pulled up to the curb just as they stepped outside; Mulgrew hustled them across the sidewalk and into the car with scarcely a pause.

The ride back to the protective facility was silent. Jenny waited impatiently, looking as if she'd spent the day pacing the length of the hallway between their rooms.

"How was it?" she demanded when Catherine and Joe rounded the corner.

"Pretty awful," Catherine admitted. "But no worse than I'd expected."

"Good." Jenny would have followed her into her room if Joe hadn't intervened.

"Come on," he said. "Cathy's had a rough day. Let's give her some time."

Catherine could have hugged him. Instead, she watched as Joe took Jenny's arm and steered her away.

Inside the haven of her own room, behind her securely locked door, she kicked off her shoes and stretched out on the bed. It felt good to close her eyes.

Except when she did, Gabriel's eyes stared back.

She snapped her eyes open and rose to change clothes.

Again her sleep was scattered and troubled. She got up in the morning knowing it was adrenaline that kept her going. She hoped her body had laid in a considerable supply.

A half hour's exercise took the edge off, though, and made her feel more alert. She breakfasted simply with Jenny, allowed herself to be strapped into the confining body armor, and followed Joe out.

This morning, there was no confrontation at the elevator to take her mind off what was to come. She occupied herself by trying to anticipate questions the defense might bring up in cross-examination and compose suitable answers.

As before, both Agent Mulgrew and the armored car were waiting in the parking garage. The car sped off as soon as she and Joe were inside.

They were delivered to yet another entrance of the Federal Courthouse. Agent Mulgrew emerged from the car first, then waved for Catherine and Joe to follow. They were halfway across the broad sidewalk when Catherine's heel caught in a crack and she stumbled sideways. At the same instant, something struck a hard blow high on her left side, driving the breath from her lungs and throwing her to the pavement.

She heard a high, sharp crack.

Around her, men were shouting. She struggled to get up and realized something - someone - was holding her down.

Panicked, she fought the restraint.

"Cathy! Cathy!"

It was Joe's voice. He was on top of her. Protecting her, she realized, with his own body.

And then he was up, tugging on her arm, dragging her to her feet. "Come on!" he shouted, and propelled her toward the building.

She stumbled forward, then caught his urgency and lunged toward the door. Someone crouched in the opening, using the glass-sided doorjamb as an inadequate shield. It was a woman holding an automatic pistol at the ready as she scanned a nearby rooftop. Catherine checked her forward motion for an instant, only to be shoved hard by Joe, who was behind her and still yelling. Galvanized, she plunged past the female agent and into the comparative safety of the building.

Inside, she stumbled up against a wall, hugging her throbbing side and gasping. Terror stalked her, making every sensitive nerve stand on end. She pressed her face into the smooth oak panelling and closed her eyes.

Vincent would come. He would feel this, and he would come, and she couldn't allow that to happen. There were too many agents, all armed and on edge, and if he came, he would die. She took a breath, ignoring the hot pain in her side, and forced herself to reach for calm. "I'm all right," she whispered, as much for Vincent as for herself. "It's over now, and I'm all right."

Gradually her own sense of urgency eased and she remembered Joe. He sagged against the wall beside her, panting shallowly for breath and wincing. His jacket was stained and his trousers torn at the knee. "Are you okay?" she asked.

"Undid a few days of healing, I think," he gasped, bending a little to one side. "I'll be okay. How about you? They didn't get you?"

"I don't know. Something hit me. It felt like a baseball bat."

"You've never been hit with a baseball bat," he accused, but already he was bending to look.

"I have a good imagination," she retorted.

He tugged at the arm she had clamped to her side. "Let me see."

For a moment she hesitated, fearful that easing the pressure would increase the pain.

"Cathy!" he insisted. "Let me see!"

Wincing, she eased her arm away from her side.

Joe stared in horror at the blackened slit in the side of her jacket and the matching crease in the body armor beneath it.

"You were hit," he said, blanching.

"I'm okay, Joe. I'm not bleeding."

By now, the hallway was teeming with armed agents shouting orders. A handful cordoned off the end of the hallway; the rest plunged outside, joining the agents already in place.

"They were shooting at me," she said, voice trembling as realization hit her.

Joe nodded grimly. "Yeah."

She swallowed. "Was anyone else hurt?"

Joe didn't answer. Alarmed, she pushed past him, back toward the door.

"Cathy! Cathy, don't!" he shouted, but it was too late.

She froze in the opening. Outside, Agent Mulgrew sprawled on the sidewalk in a growing pool of blood.

"I didn't like him much," she said later, as a paramedic tended her palms and knees. Both had been badly abraded when she was thrown to the sidewalk. An icepack covered the spreading bruise on her side. "But I'm sorry he's dead."

"Yeah," Joe agreed. His ribs were being retaped by another paramedic. She'd tried to urge him to go to the hospital and be checked by a doctor, but she refused to go herself and he refused to leave her.

An FBI agent earlier identified as Parker put down a phone on the other side of the room. "We've located the building where the shots were fired," he said. "It's about a half-mile from here and high enough to give a good view of the area. The sniper got away." He shook his head. "Guy must have been a hell of a shot to hope to hit a selected target at that range."

"Must have been," Joe agreed bitterly. "Damn near killed her. I thought you people were supposed to protect her!"

"All the nearby buildings were covered, Mr. Maxwell," Parker said, a bit stiffly. "No one thought they'd try from so far away."

"Yeah," Joe said. "Especially Agent Mulgrew."

The door to the room opened; Joe and Parker both spun to face it. A bailiff, oblivious to the automatic pistol suddenly gleaming in Parker's hand, leaned in and addressed Catherine primly. "The judge has postponed your testimony until this afternoon."

Joe made an abortive attempt to rise. "What? She's not testifying today. An attempt was just made on her life. A man was killed."

The bailiff looked doubtful. "I can tell the judge you said that," he began.

"No."

Both Joe and the bailiff looked at her in surprise.

"I'll testify."

"Cathy, you've had a shock. You're hurt. Give yourself time..."

"Time for him to make another attempt?" she snapped. "Time for another man to die in my place?"

"Mulgrew knew the risks," Joe argued. "It was part of the job."

"I know that," she answered. "But if I delay, if I let it go on... it might happen again. Surprisingly, I find it's easier to contemplate my own death than to inadvertently be the cause of someone else's."

"Cathy..." Joe pleaded.

"No, Joe. I have to do this. And I have to do it today." She looked at the bailiff. "My clothes are torn. Dirty..."

"We can send for more clothing," the bailiff agreed. "Will someone at the protective facility know what to pack for you?"

Catherine looked at Joe. "Jenny..."

"Yeah," he sighed, and flexed a shoulder, testing the new strapping across his ribcage. "She'll have to know. It'll be in the news anyway. She might as well hear it from me."

Catherine made a list, and Joe made his phone call. Three hours later, newly clad in the fresh clothing Jenny had sent, she entered the courtroom.

At Joe's insistence, a doctor had been brought in to examine her side; his diagnosis was bruised but not broken ribs and a severe contusion. She'd refused painkillers and was conscious now of the dull ache as she took her place in the witness stand.

Gabriel stared, but this time, she met his gaze defiantly. Her hands trembled in her lap and she clasped them tightly together; she would not permit him the satisfaction of seeing her react.

Then she realized his stare was tinged with horror. He hadn't expected to see her here today. Or ever again.

No one had told him the attempt on her life had failed.

She gave him a smile of grim satisfaction, and this time it was Gabriel who looked away.

"The witness is reminded she is still under oath," the judge pronounced, and the ordeal of cross-examination began.

As she'd expected, the defense attorney proceeded as if the morning's assault had not taken place. He progressed chronologically, establishing that she had no personal knowledge to link either the black book or her abduction to his client. Then he moved on to the subject of her imprisonment.

"You say you were held in a building at 1900 Sixth Avenue for a number of months."

The memory of the terror of that place, that time, gripped her, but this time she didn't cower away from it. Instead, there was a surge of resentment at things taken from her there. Her freedom. Her peace of mind. Again, in her mind's eye, she saw the still form of Agent Mulgrew outside. "That's right," she answered crisply.

"And this was not the same place where you say you were drugged and interrogated."

"No."

"Were you mistreated during your stay there? Starved? Beaten?"

Her temper flared. "That depends on your definition of mistreatment, counselor. I was held there against my will."

"Your honor, please instruct the witness to answer the question."

The judge peered at her over the side of the bench. "You've been a trial attorney, Miss Chandler," he admonished. "You know better than that."

"Of course," she acknowledged. She swallowed hard and checked her rising wrath. "Would you repeat the question, please?"

The judge instructed the court reporter to read the question as asked.

"Were you mistreated during your stay there. Starved. Beaten," the reporter read in a monotone.

"I was neither starved nor beaten," Catherine said clearly.

"And you tell us you received medical care for your pregnancy."

"Yes."

"Was it good care, Miss Chandler?"

"How would I know that?" she snapped. "I'm not a doctor."

"Miss Chandler," the judge said, warningly. "Counsel will rephrase the question, please."

The attorney rustled some papers. "You appear to no longer be pregnant," he said.

"No." She couldn't help it; her voice was faintly mocking.

"I assume, then, that you did eventually give birth to this child?"

"Yes."

"Was it a girl or a boy?"

She glared at him, but Peter Alcott had already told her that the test they'd done with a needle through her abdomen was unlikely to have been anything but an amniocentesis; she would be giving away nothing in answering this. "A boy."

The attorney nodded. "Congratulations. And is he healthy?"

"Yes."

"So the medical procedures you say were forced upon you did not harm your child."

Even though she understood what the attorney was trying to do, his questions rankled. She fought to appear calm. "They don't appear to have, no."

"And you made a good recovery from the birth?"

"Yes."

He nodded sagely and shuffled his papers. "Miss Chandler, you've told the court that you suspect the reason you were held prisoner and given such exemplary medical care is because of your child. Because someone wanted your child."

"That's correct."

"I'm a bit confused about that. I mean, holding you in this facility, a private doctor, a nurse. All this must have been expensive. I'm sure there are a number of women who would be glad to act as a surrogate mother in exchange for payment." He glanced at her. "What was so special about your child?"

She knew the answer to that, but it wasn't anything she could say in court. "I don't know. Except, perhaps, that they already had me. That I was a liability to them because of what I knew about John Moreno. My child was a plus they hadn't counted on. They took advantage of it."

She glanced Gabriel's way. He returned the look, acknowledging what they both knew. She was sure, though, that he didn't plan to offer any evidence about her child's father. If he intended to produce the videotapes she'd seen of Vincent in full fury, he would have done so already. Perhaps he had considered, as she had, what Hollywood was doing with special effects these days, and knew his evidence would not be believed. Or perhaps he just wanted to keep the knowledge to himself.

"Perhaps," the defense attorney continued, "there is something special about this child?"

"He's an ordinary little boy," she said sharply.

"A boy you will not produce for this court."

"No."

"Why is that, Miss Chandler? If he is, as you say, ordinary."

She sat a little straighter. "I have already testified," she said, her voice cold, "that the defendant wanted my son for his own purposes, whatever those might be. But he's a child, a human being. Not a commodity. I will not produce him because to do so would expose him to danger."

"What sort of danger would he face in this courtroom?" the attorney asked. "Aren't you safe here?"

She couldn't believe he'd asked the question, giving her the opening. She saw the horrified realization of what he'd done cross his face as soon as he'd finished speaking.

"In the courtroom, perhaps," she answered quickly, before he could retract the question. "It's travelling here and back that's dangerous. You must be aware that an attempt on my life was made just this morning, outside this building. A man died protecting me."

Pandemonium broke out among the jurors and spectators. The judge banged his gavel with vigor. "That's enough," he barked. "I will have order in my courtroom."

Gabriel was half on his feet, his malevolent eye turned on the hapless attorney who'd erred. Catherine felt a flicker of compassion for the man who'd just made a dangerous enemy.

A bailiff and another attorney on the defense team returned Gabriel to his chair. His outburst hadn't gone unnoticed by the jury, however, some of whom were staring at him in apprehension.

"Order!" the judge shouted one more time, and the noise died away.

"One more outburst like that and I will have this courtroom cleared," he told the spectators. He turned a steely eye on Catherine. "Miss Chandler. You will refrain from making inflammatory statements. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, your honor." It didn't matter now. The damage had been done.

The judge glanced at the clock on the wall over the jury box. "It's almost four o'clock," he noted. "Does counsel for the defense have further questions for this witness?"

The attorney who'd been performing the cross-examination looked up uncertainly. "Uh, actually, your honor, in light of Ms. Chandler's extraordinary statement, we'd like a little time..."

"Very well. We'll end today's session now. Court is recessed until nine o'clock tomorrow morning. Questioning of this witness will resume then."

The jury was escorted from the courtroom. They were being sequestered, Catherine knew. They were also under stringent protection.

She stepped down from the witness stand, but lingered a moment. She felt a vindictive sense of triumph as Gabriel Vandt was handcuffed. He seemed to know she was there, and turned to give her a long look before he was escorted away.

She didn't avert her gaze until after the door closed behind him.

Joe waited in the narrow corridor. "They let me stand in the back for a while," he said as she emerged. "You were great, kiddo."

"Was I?" she asked tonelessly. Her supply of adrenaline had just been exhausted, and she felt wrung out and empty.

"Sure you were. I mean, Moreno was a good witness. Dates, names, places, he had it all. But he was testifying in exchange for immunity, and you know as well as I do that it makes a difference to a jury. They wonder if he might not be stretching things a little, padding the truth. But you. You said it all, and you were absolutely believable. And then the recess. The timing on that couldn't have been better. I think it was a mistake for the defense not to jump in right away, defuse what you said there at the end," he confided.

"I'm not sure they knew what to say to defuse it," she said.

"That poor guy who asked the question. I can't believe he gave you that opening."

"Neither can he, Joe," she said tiredly. "I only hope he's allowed to live to regret it."


Continued in Chapter 17